Category: "Reduce"

How high is the water now (part two)?

August 10th, 2011
Last week I asked you to begin thinking about the things you do to save water. This week I'm asking you to share your ideas and techniques with others.
Before I do, however, I want to point out a few, water-related facts to illustrate the importance of this issue. We briefly learned (in the Eastern Pennsylvania Business Journal article), how important water is to human survival and how the Earth maintains this supply. Now let's talk about how much we consume. Here are a few numbers. • The average person uses 100 gallons of water each day. • Based on the 100-gallons-per-day figure, one person will use 2.5 million gallons in a 70-year lifetime. • The US population increased by nearly 100 million people in ten recent years. Despite the fact that we've experienced a lot of flooding recently, the atmosphere is not adjusting to our demand for more water. And floods do very little to increase our fresh water supply. To start, clouds only shed what they absorb through evaporation. Evaporation drives the hydrological cycle, and speedy evaporation is not desirable (unless your laundry is hanging out to dry). When water evaporates to the clouds quickly and in large quantities it then dumps quickly.
When the floods come, the Earth cannot absorb the fast-moving stormwater, so the rain often hits the salty ocean before we can utilize it. Most water-conservation measures slow down the evaporation process and, as a result, they help prevent flooding. A reduced likelihood of flooding means an increase in the presence of useable water. This is important to note because -- being a continuous cycle -- everything we do in regard to water use perpetuates either the problem or the solution. Sadly, I believe that one reason all citizens haven't taken a serious look at their individual water use is because theirs is literally a drop in the bucket when compared to industry's. I've seen leaks from construction sites that have likely wasted more water than I use in a lifetime. It's true that 2.5 million gallons isn't much when compared to industrial activities like drilling for natural gas. For instance, the most predominant water battle in Pennsylvania right now is connected to the Marcellus Shale and the bounty of natural gas therein. To get to this treasure, deep below the Earth's surface, drillers need lots of water. Lots of water. And now there are a lot of drills. Lots of drills. Some more numbers: • Each Marcellus Shale well consumes about 3 to 5 million gallons of water. • As of October 2010, there were 645 completed wells in Pennsylvania. • There have been 6,795 additional Pennsylvania well permits issued since 2004. I can't bring myself to do the math, nor will my little calculator go that high. These numbers do not take into account the loss of groundwater recharge from soil disturbance and plant loss as a result of road and well pad site construction. When combined with existing industrial water use (such as bottled water), we have to start asking if there will be any left for the fish. Why then should I bother trying to save a measly gallon here and a gallon there?
My answer: because I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Because I want to know that I've done all I can to protect my own life. Because living in harmony with what the Earth provides is important to me. Because I still feel theft is wrong even when thieves surround me. It can be downright painful to care. However, when we do, we become invested in it. When we care, we are more willing to stand up and demand the crooks be judged. So far, on our behalf, the folks who care about water have demanded that the drillers figure out how to recycle and reuse the water. The folks who control water withdrawal permits are fighting to ensure our streams and rivers maintain an ecologically healthy flow. The senators and representatives -- the ones who got voted in by the people who care about water -- are fighting to ensure big industry does not get away with murder. But their job is not easy. They need our support. They need to know we won't just waste the water they are fighting to conserve. First, get engaged by starting a conservation effort of your own. Second, always remember your role in the water consumption cycle. Third, be willing to speak up and show that you care about water. Water conservation strategies need not be scientific; more often they are just common sense. I promise to share with you some of my own ideas, but first I want to hear yours. Remember: EVERY DROP COUNTS, so no idea is too small.
Let us hear your suggestions for being part of the solution. I'm not asking you to solve all our water problems or save the planet or regulate industry or control the US population. I just want to get us talking – and thinking about – our individual water use. Spread the word to keep the ideas coming. If you have a product or other resource (such as a great low-flow shower head), tell us the brand and where we can get one. It doesn't matter if you're in the middle of a concrete jungle or you pump your water from a hand well in the Ozarks, I want to hear how you conserve water? I'll respond to your comments in the next blog post in mid-August.

How high is the water now?

August 2nd, 2011
It's the dry season. Outside the window I see curled leaves and brown ground cover. Where four months ago I was wondering if it would ever stop raining, I'm now thinking it may never rain again (aside from the torrential stuff that comes with thunder).
I wish it wasn't so, but it often takes a drought to make us realize just how much we need water.

My latest column in the Eastern Pennsylvania Business Journal (July 18) discusses the science of water. It was written for the business community -- a category of people who could really make a difference in water conservation -- but the information applies to everyone.

I invite you to read it:

Then, next week I'll share with you a few unconventional ways that I save water and will be looking to hear your own suggestions. Jot down your tips as you think of them so you can join in the conversation.

No matter what the season, it's time to get serious about water.

The Consequences of AC Addition

July 6th, 2011
The latest SOS Signal newsletter is ready for reading. It asks that you consider using the air conditioning less and offers tips for keeping your system running efficiently. Click here to read more.

Memorial Day in the Garden

May 31st, 2011
Memorial Day may be a popular time to travel to the beach or mountains, but for me, I like to spend the holidays at home. My secluded backyard is far away from the traffic and crowds that turn well-intentioned, holiday-weekend travel into another stressful activity. I'll admit, I was dreaming of watching the ocean waves or wading in a mountain stream while I dug post holes in 90-degree heat for my garden fence. Still, both my wallet and my temperament have benefited from my decision to stay put. Earlier this year I told you that I was finally going to put in the hard work necessary to grow my own organic vegetables, and this weekend, the resulting garden occupied much of my time. Here's an update on my experience so far: Taking the advice of blog reader, Sarah Besterman, I bought a few plants instead of relying on everything to grow from seed. I purchased kale, cabbage, and Bok choy from the Rodale Institute's early spring sale and then a few tomatoes and peppers after Mother's Day. The professionally grown plants are now giving the garden a lush appearance. However, from an economic standpoint, seed-grown plants yield the best return on the dollar. So far from seed I've started:
  • lettuce,
  • radish,
  • spinach,
  • leeks,
  • carrots,
  • bush beans,
  • cucumbers,
  • tomatoes,
  • bell peppers,
  • cilantro,
  • marigolds (to deter the rabbits),
  • and sunflowers (after my friend Bob suggested every garden needs them).
Also transplanted into the garden are a few heirloom tomatoes which Bob gave to me -- fondly dubbed "Mrs. T's" for the Italian woman who made them famous among friends. I am now watching with intrigue to see which plants yield the most food.
Professionally started Bok choy and kale add an encouraging lushness to the garden.
The rewards from hard work have just begun.
Started from seed, nutritious lettuce and spinach hide under a makeshift sunscreen to extend their yield into the hotter weather. I'm also embarking on a secondary experiment. The work I was doing this weekend was to extend the fence beyond the garden boundaries to include a portion of a native wildflower area I'd been unsuccessfully maintaining for the last 10 years. Guests never got to see much when they viewed this wild, rocky mess; deer and other critters chomped down anything worth looking at. It has always been discouraging to see the flowers disappear while Japanese Stilt Grass (Microstegium vimineum) and other invasive weeds get left behind. Now, with a small portion fenced in, I will watch for the contrast to unfold within the safeguarded area.
A high fence now safeguards a small section of the wildflower garden from hungry deer.
Thankfully the deer don't eat milkweed (pictured here in the unfenced area). These plants may not look like much to you and me, but they play a critical role in the life of a monarch butterfly. It's true I imagined fun times vacationing in a favored spot, but I found home life to be just as rewarding. I got to share a meal with close neighbors and friends. I devoured lettuce, radish, spinach, and kale just moments after cutting. I feel nourished both inside and out. And every day, an inspection walk through the little garden takes me away from my desk and opens my mind to the possibility of future abundance. I have no doubts that I will experience a few frustrations along the way (the leeks don't look good at all), but I'll take that over sitting in a motionless car for hours any day.
I'm beginning to understand this sentiment -- a gift from my late grandmother -- more and more every day.

Following nature's lead.

March 31st, 2011
It's no secret that I happen to think the natural world is an amazing place. Nature provides for us everything we need to survive: water, oxygen, food and shelter. The natural system that supports us is simple, complicated and just plain miraculous. From beyond the Earth's atmosphere, the moon drives the tide and the sun illuminates the sky while constant planetary rotation changes the seasons. I'm not alone in my awe, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who sees how humans have come to believe they are above the natural order of things ... at least until the power fails. Alongside us on the planet exists trillions of other organisms, each one well supported by, and adapted to, its natural environment. Each is a part of the system, and each carries its own, unique traits. For instance, the jack rabbit has powerful back legs to run from its predators. The eagle grew broad wings so it can find and hunt the rabbit. While each plays out its role among the whole, it is also true that everything is dependent on everything else. There is much debate on how this all came to be, but one thing's for sure: we didn't build it.
Meanwhile, in the artificial world -- the one humans have created for comfort and convenience -- everything we need to survive is dependent strictly on the actions of another humans. A farmer grows our food, a trucker ships it to the grocery store, a bagger wraps it up for us to carry back to our architect-designed home. Back in nature's model, worry is useless. The rabbit can only run from the eagle. It cannot waste time hoping the eagle will suddenly crave something else. All the rabbit can do is act upon its own survival instincts. It does not fret over the global impact of its actions nor does it bother focusing on what other rabbits are doing outside its territory. And if the rabbit does get caught by the eagle, the flower -- the rabbit's food -- will live. The cycle of life continues, not in spite of the system, but as a result of it. Worry in the artificial world is commonplace; it's a byproduct of omnipotent control. At the root of human worry is the concern for maintaining a constant energy supply. The artificial world needs measurable and deliverable power. Everything is dependent on the actions of those in charge of producing electricity or gasoline or whatever source is present at the time. And look at the despair that has caused. You don't need me to name examples. International, national, regional and local – we are suffering greatly because of power. The headlines are filled with reports that our demands are exceeding the supply, and we're destroying ecosystems as a result. But instead of weaning us off the problem, we build more "need" into the designs and redesigns of almost every new product on the market. Sure, we've made smart improvements in product efficiency, but think about all the manual tools you can no longer buy. Coffee grinders, clocks, and even thermostats. The products being added to store shelves are not reducing our power consumption, they are continually increasing it. We fight over sweeping solutions to keep the power flowing. Yet until we each are willing to make our own changes -- until we are each willing to wind our clocks instead of plug them in -- maintaining our artificial world will always involve destroying elements of the natural one. No one person can fix this situation we are in. We can't control what the greedy rabbit is doing on the other side of the mountain, but we can control what we do in our own nest. If we put as much energy into accepting nature into our lives as we do trying to manipulate it to fill our desires, life would continue, not in spite of the fact, but as a result of it. First, it's time for the market to demand product designs that use ingenuity instead of electricity. Next time you're shopping, ask yourself, "Will this item work when the power is out? Is there a non-digital model available? Choose as if you expect the power supply to fail. Tiny changes lead to small changes that lead to a complete transformations. You may not be able to cool the nuclear rods in Japan, but you can send the message that you'd prefer to be unplugged. Second, instead of trying to fix the whole world, let us address the issues within our own territory - our home or business. Let us each take responsibility for our part in the system. Third, let us do our best to work within nature's laws in everything we do. We must relinquish some control before the solutions to our current state of despair will be revealed. This includes everything from turning down the heat to letting darkness fill the night sky. Let us not try to change the eagle but become swifter, stronger and more clever rabbits.